How does sequestration affect SLO County?

Children, seniors and other San Luis Obispo County residents may be affected by federal spending cuts that kicked in Friday and slashed millions of dollars in funding for education, public safety, public health and other services and programs.

Local officials Friday were still trying to figure out how much of a hit their departments or programs would take and how they’d put those reductions into place.

“Costs constantly go up, and the need for more funding goes up,” said Elias Nimeh, executive director of the Senior Nutrition Program of San Luis Obispo County, which receives about $500,000 of its $1.2 million budget from federal funds. “Any cut will have a big impact.”

The program provides 160,000 meals a year to seniors at 10 dining sites and through a home delivery service.

The massive federal spending cuts could slash about $5.4 million from senior nutrition programs in California, according to The Associated Press.

Other cuts in California include $87.6 million in reduced funding for primary and secondary education, $62.9 million less for about 760 special education teachers and aides, and $1.6 million in grants that support law enforcement, courts and crime-prevention programs.

California would also lose $12.4 million in grants to prevent and treat substance abuse.

Children in Head Start and Early Head Start programs could also be affected. Statewide, about 8,200 children could lose services.

It’s still unknown how many children in San Luis Obispo County could be affected, but the programs face a cut of at least half a million dollars, said Biz Steinberg, chief executive officer of Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County.

“We will try to cut anything and everything that does not affect children and families directly as much as possible,” Steinberg said. She said she hopes that any cuts would not impact families until the fall.

The local programs receive about $6 million in federal money and serve 389 preschoolers ages 3 to 5 in Head Start and 254 infants, toddlers and pregnant women in Early Head Start.

The goal is to increase school readiness for children in low-income families, such as a family of four earning $23,550 a year.

Cuts could also impact some county public safety operations as well as health and human services, said County Administrative Officer Dan Buckshi. He’s still trying to pull together details about what the automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, may mean for San Luis Obispo County.

Public K-12 schools in the county face funding reductions, but county schools Superintendent Julian Crocker said he doesn’t think students will see an immediate impact.

Schools stand to lose federal money that goes to support low-income students and students in special-education programs. Both give cause for concern, but the latter cut in particular, Crocker said, because school districts already contribute a large amount from their budgets to support special education.

Special-education programs in the county’s 10 public school districts cost $54.5 million a year, with the federal government covering nearly 14 percent, or $7.6 million — far less than the 40 percent it committed to fund when legislation was passed in the 1970s, Crocker said.

The state picks up about $9.7 million, and the rest — about $37.2 million — is covered by local school districts. About 12 percent of the county’s 34,674 students are in special-education programs, including students with mild learning disabilities and those with more severe disabilities.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCounty Beat on Twitter.